What if I told you a story about a promise, perhaps even made with the best of intentions, that was entirely unrealistic and practically impossible? This promise was made to a bunch of people who genuinely want it to be true because they want to see their lives become better. If it was delivered, it would legitimately change their lives. These people put their hope in this promise, but when the time came for that promise to be delivered, they found out that the reality was a lot different than what they were told it would be. In fact, there was no chance that that wonderful promise, made with the best of intentions, could be delivered. You would be pretty disappointed and perhaps even angry with the person who made that promise.
Do you know what I’m talking about? No, I’m not talking about Scott’s Tots, perhaps the most infamous and cringe worthy episode of The Office ever. I am actually talking about socialism, but I can see how you might get the two of them confused.
Let’s consider the premise of the episode. Michael Scott begins the episode by expressing his very good intentions. When asked why he would promise future college tuition to a classroom of third-graders, he says that he wants, “to change lives.” He goes on to explain, “I fell in love with these kids, and I didn’t want to see them fall victim to the system.”
Socialism makes very much the same promise when you really think about it. Consider this quote from the new Congresswoman from New York Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. “I believe that every American should have stable, dignified housing; health care; education — that the most very basic needs to sustain modern life should be guaranteed in a moral society.” These are good things, but much like Michael Scott, the question is not whether or not the intentions are good. I also wish that we could solve all of our poverty, healthcare, and educational problems. Intentions are not enough when the cold, hard reality of economics comes into play. We need to consider the method with which we try to solve these problems. We want to pick the method that has the highest probability of success in our inevitably imperfect world.
I’m sorry, but socialism, even if pursued with the best intentions, simply comes up short. It promises the world, but it delivers much less than that. To quote Michael Scott again, “I have made some empty promises in my life, but hands down, that was the most generous.” Consider what was written by Mark Perry at the Foundation for Economic Education, “The temptress of socialism is constantly luring us with the offer: ‘give up a little of your freedom and I will give you a little more security.’ As the experience of this century has demonstrated, the bargain is tempting but never pays off.” Richard Epstein of the Hoover Institution points out, “Consumer demand explodes with the promise of free goodies, while the supply of goods and services shrinks given the want of revenue to cover wages and capital expenditures.” This is the Bernie Sanders’ model of Medicare for all and free college tuition for everyone. Again, I’m not saying that these things are bad. Free education and healthcare provided by a businessman from Scranton or the federal government are not always attempted with bad intentions, but the problem is that it is simply a promise that cannot be delivered, and that leads to more substantial problems.
History is quite plain here. Critics of this article will point to Scandinavia perhaps as the chief counterexample of successful socialism, but consider the “socialist” countries that are often mentioned like Sweden or Finland. There are many problems with the progressive Scandinavian economic model, but when you actually consider the degree to which they actually still embrace tenets of capitalism, they are far from shining examples of socialism but rather examples of capitalism doing less than it could if it wasn’t hampered down by welfare state policies. Even the Heritage Foundation recognizes Sweden and Finland as remarkably economically free. The United Kingdom and Canada, even with their socialized medicine, possess an even freer economy than the United States. Their success is due to rediscovering their economic freedom and capitalism, not due to the inherent virtue of socialism. In fact, without the socialistic policies holding back the successes they are having, the Scandinavian countries would be even more prosperous than they are currently. The history is in fact quite plain that economic freedom and the power of the market have created a great deal of global prosperity.
What happens in The Office when Michael finally summons up the courage to tell the classroom that he simply cannot deliver on his promise? They get pretty upset, and rightfully so. A few minutes earlier, they were singing his praises for all that he could do for them, “You made a promise, you made us realize, we don’t have to compromise, ‘cause we can have it all!” The condemnation is pretty universal after his announcement. Apply the same logic to socialism. It promises the world, but think if it can actually deliver. Based on what we see around the rest of the world, socialism has about as good of a chance at making our dreams come true as Michael Scott did at sending his Tots to college with anything more than lithium batteries.